Shane Kowalski ~ Politeness

I was meet­ing the man who pre­vi­ous­ly owned the house I now called home. After mov­ing out of the house, almost imme­di­ate­ly, his wife died of a brain aneurysm. His chil­dren were now grown and at col­leges on dif­fer­ent coasts. It had been a few years. The rea­son for the meet­ing was to give him a box of pho­tos I had found in the bot­tom of a clos­et in a room I hard­ly used in the house. The pic­tures were mun­dane but gave off the seduc­tive allure of pri­vate lives lived else­where. How was it that all of this had hap­pened with­out me! How could any­thing hap­pen with­out me! I felt the shock of some­one real­iz­ing they are not the only per­son alive. A fam­i­ly. People danc­ing. A dog. Many pho­tos of his chil­dren in var­i­ous stages of growth. I rec­og­nized them from when I did a walk­through of the house before buy­ing it. Buying the house, I had the sen­sa­tion, born out of jeal­ousy, that I hat­ed this fam­i­ly. They were ugly, dull, and seemed to be already dead. I was buy­ing a home from ghosts! Which excit­ed me—it felt like I was going to take their place! Even though I hat­ed reach­ing out to peo­ple in those days, I found it only right that the man should have these pho­tos of his fam­i­ly. We met at a dis­gust­ing café that I hat­ed. He sur­pris­ing­ly looked younger, more alive, inter­est­ed and inter­est­ing: as if los­ing his fam­i­ly had restored his health. I brought the box of pho­tos, put it on the table. He went to it, opened it, and began look­ing. His ini­tial excite­ment seemed to turn very quick­ly into a strange com­mu­ni­ty of fea­tures I had nev­er seen on a face before. These are not my pho­tos, he said. Of course they are, I said. No, they are not, he said. These are your chil­dren though, I said, pick­ing up a pho­to of his two chil­dren star­ing cold­ly into the cam­era. I’ve nev­er seen these chil­dren before, he said. I mean, they have sim­i­lar fea­tures to mine, he said, but they aren’t mine. I thought he was either clear­ly lying or hav­ing a break­down of his own. These were clear­ly his dull and ugly chil­dren in the pho­tos. But he kept say­ing no, no they weren’t. He end­ed up refus­ing to look at them fur­ther. He gave me no hand­shake. He left with­out pay­ing for the large, gross cof­fee and slice of pump­kin pie he had ordered. I put a bite into the pie. It put my stom­ach in a bad mood, which I rev­eled in. Leaves fell out­side. The box of pho­tos sat there with me. I felt like a man.


Shane Kowalski was born out­side of Philadelphia. His work has appeared or is forth­com­ing in Puerto del Sol, New Delta Review, Passages North, and oth­er places. He is cur­rent­ly a lec­tur­er at Cornell University.